Merit Scholarships

Back from the big NALP conference, back from Seattle, happy to be back in New York City. The five boroughs came up a lot at the conference thanks to the big move by Brooklyn Law School to cut tuition by 15% next year.

If I may summarize the reactions from other schools about Brooklyn’s cut (I’m paraphrasing):

  • F**k those motherf**kers. It’s still super-expensive. Go STATE!
  • Actually my school did something very similar. [Elie explains why their school is not similar.] Well, that’s just your opinion, man.
  • Can somebody wake me up when Yale does it?

I expected that other schools would be a little annoyed with Brooklyn. Schools are already facing a financial crunch given the sharp drop in new law students; not many want to take on the additional financial burden of across the board rate reductions. I recently appeared on CNBC with Brooklyn Law Dean Nick Allard, and he explained that Brooklyn Law sold off some of its capital assets to afford this. I noted that not every school is in the position to do that.

But I didn’t expect some prospective Brooklyn Law students to also bitch about the reduction. I guess when you expect dumber people to subsidize your education, having that taken away from you is jarring…

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Reasonable minds can disagree on how to reform law school, but here’s one thing that almost everyone can agree upon: the tuition is too darn high. In an ideal world, legal education would be much more affordable. Not everyone has wealthy parents who insist on paying for college and graduate school.

Alas, we’re probably not going to see major change on that front anytime soon. As long as the federal government keeps the loan money flowing, law schools have little incentive to lower tuition.

So, at least for now, we’ll have to settle for more modest measures at controlling cost. For example, law schools can and should devote greater resources to scholarships, which lower the effective price tag of a J.D. degree.

One leading law school just received a gigantic gift — which it’s putting towards scholarships, to its credit. Which law school is on the receiving end of this largesse, and how much is it getting?

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Perhaps you remember them differently than I do. I remember a herd (and I don’t think it’s ungenerous to describe them thusly) parked at a table in our library. Bad skin, weight issues, nearsightedness — three-dimensional representations of a Far Side cartoon, hunched over the table in deep meditation. Wisecracks that weren’t wise at all bubbled up from the corners of the action. These were the jesters of this unfortunate royal court. And then suddenly! Action! One of the herd leaned over and subtly, but deftly, turned a stack of playing cards ever-so-slightly to the right. MAGIC!!!!!!???

Magic: The Gathering appeared at my high school seemingly out of nowhere. It appeared, to these eyes, to coalesce the scattered nerdery into a tight circle of “fun.” Lunches were now solemn affairs, after school was now not just a wasteland of sports and athletic enterprise. Time was filled with a card game that combined all the sexiness of Dungeons and Dragons with all of the mental dexterity of Go Fish. Pre-internet, you have to understand, this must have seemed like a godsend to those whose dance cards never involved dances.

And so it is that Magic: The Gathering reappeared on my radar this weekend as the New York Times ran a piece about its continuing popularity and recent beneficence. Specifically, the dorkiest game of all time is doing its part to make law school more affordable for the few, the proud, the Poindexters…

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Ed. Note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today’s LSAT advice comes from our friends at Blueprint LSAT Prep. Check out Blueprint’s new LSAT book, The Blueprint for LSAT Logic Games.

Law school numbers are down. Way down.

And like any business that suddenly finds itself with fewer customers, law schools are looking to entice new students to apply. Because — and it’s always important to remember this — law schools are businesses, at least as much as they are academic institutions.

Will they take a hint from used car salesmen, setting up whacky, inflatable, arm-flailing tube men to draw the eye of passing motorists?

Or possibly Red Lobster, offering shrimp AND lobster with any J.D.?

Or, more likely, will they try to improve their job numbers while offering larger scholarships?

If you guessed door number three, you’d be right.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

For prospective law students, the promise of merit-based scholarship money amid a broken legal market seems like an incredible deal. So what if there aren’t any jobs? You’re going to go to law school at a significantly discounted rate, or maybe even for free, so you won’t be at any real loss.

Or will you?

What law schools don’t like to tell you with regard to these frequently conditional scholarships is just how difficult it can be to keep them. When you’re banking the terms of your financial future on a law school grading curve, things can get a little tricky. Some might even describe the situation as a big racket. Thankfully, the ABA has started keeping tabs on these programs, and now there’s a wealth of information available on retention rates for scholarships of this kind.

So out of the 140 schools offering conditional scholarships, which ones are most likely to take back your law school funny money? Let’s find out…

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Won’t be long before law schools are getting this guy to sell you legal education.

It really bothers me when law schools resort to “used car salesmen” tactics to try to induce law students to sign up for school. Say what you will about the value of legal education, but it’s not like buying a Sham-Wow. Students can’t be influenced by “special, limited time” offers when trying to decide if and where to invest three years of their time. If nothing else, you’re entering into the lottery to win a legal career, not an iPad Mini.

Law schools that try to exploit “impulse buy” reactions to fill their seats should be ashamed of themselves. They are taking advantage of kids — twenty-somethings who don’t have lawyers or accountants or appraisers representing their interests. Law schools are at a huge informational advantage concerning the true value of their services, value that they try to hide at every turn from independent third parties. Law students are trying to cobble together what they can based on word of mouth, Google, and some published rankings. Turning the screws on these prospective students with offers that “expire in 24 hours” is a good business strategy if you are trying to sell them a toaster, but it’s a disgraceful thing to do for a place that claims to be an “institution of higher learning.”

I can only hope that anybody who received this “hard-sell” email from this law school did the smart thing and just walked away…

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Jim Chen

Law students should take merit stipulations into account when they decide whether to accept an offer of admission paired with a conditional grant of financial aid. By all accounts, they do not. Law schools should transparently disclose the likely effect of merit stipulations on their financial aid awards. By all accounts, law schools do no such thing.

Jim Chen, former dean at the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law, opining on the merit scholarship racket in a new working paper.

(If you recall, Chen’s school recently over-promised financial aid to incoming students, which will result in a $2.4 million shortfall over three years.)